An amendment by school board member Steve Zimmer to push back an impending vote by the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education on its 2012-13 budget plan has temporarily placed on hold the possible elimination of adult education.
LAUSD officials notified educators and the school district’s Division of Adult and Career Education last month that schools like the Venice Skills Center could have their funds taken away due to the district’s massive budget shortfall.
“Having made systematic and significant cuts in programs and personnel over that period, and with no additional revenues forthcoming, I, and the Los Angeles Board of Education, are left with no choice but to seriously consider massive reductions in critical areas, including arts programs for elementary school students, adult education, and early childhood education,” LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement. “We must do all that we can to preserve (kindergarten) through 12 class size at acceptable levels for next year.”
The plan that was offered at the Feb. 14 meeting included the termination of funding for adult education, early childhood education and arts education at the elementary school level in order to reduce the deficit.
Hundreds of supporters of the arts and continuing education programs rallied outside the district headquarters and spoke before the school board, imploring them to consider the fallout from effectively closing down adult education classes.
After listening to the public, Zimmer – who represents schools in Mar Vista, Venice, Del Rey and Westchester – proposed his amendment to move the date of adopting the budget to March 13.
“Our partners, our employees, our families have sacrificed more than we ever imagined they would,” the school board member said in reference to the billions of dollars in cutbacks that the board has instituted over the last several years. “This amendment creates a pathway and builds a moment of opportunity to work together.”
David Hudak, a student at the Venice Skills Center, is taking courses on Cisco networking in information technology in order to get his certification on the system for his job. Being able to take the courses at the vocational center can mean a world of difference from a financial standpoint for many students.
“If I were taking classes for this program at another school, it could cost me thousands of dollars,” Hudak noted.
Other students see adult education classes as a way to redeem themselves from prior missteps in life and to pass along the advantages of education to the next generation of students.
Martin Montoya, who dropped out of school over 20 years ago, worries that he will not be able to help his 8-year-old twins with their homework without his reading and comprehension courses at the Venice Community Adult School.
“I never had the time to go to school and I never knew that I could set (academic) goals for myself and help my kids,” Montoya said. “Sometimes they ask me, ‘Dad, help me with my homework’ and I can’t help them.
“How can I tell them to stay in school if I can’t show them a good example?”
Laura Chardiet, who once served as the Venice Community Adult School’s Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment Systems teacher advisor, said eliminating programs like adult education would twice disenfranchise many students who utilize these schools.
“There are often students that have been failed by the school system when they were younger,” she said. “Eliminating adult education programs with nothing for them to fall back on would be like failing them again.”
That is how Montoya said he would feel if he were unable to obtain his general education equivalency certificate.
“That would mean that I failed again,” said Montoya, who in his youth was involved with gangs and who now aspires to be a drug and alcohol counselor or gang intervention specialist. “That’s all I did when I was young, and I made a commitment to become more educated and be a better father to my kids.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson also weighed in on LAUSD’s plan to slash arts and adult education funding.
“It is our goal at the California Department of Education to consider the ‘whole student’ in our daily work of providing technical assistance and oversight of the multitude of state and federal programs we are responsible to administer,” the schools superintendent wrote to the district in a Feb. 10 letter.
“As such, we consider adult education a vital and integral part of the entire school spectrum.”
Hudak agrees. “There are a lot of young people and adults who can’t afford college and who are trying to gain skills that will help them in the workforce that schools like the Venice Skills Center are helping,” he said.
If funding for adult education were eliminated, “It would definitely slow down my progress,” Hudak said. “I would have to go back to the drawing board because I couldn’t afford to take these classes anywhere else.”
Torlakson touched on some of the same reasons why it is important to preserve funding for schools like the Venice Skills Center and the Venice Community Adult School that students who spoke with The Argonaut did.
“It is through adult education that the parents of the students within our kindergarten through 12 schools can gain the education and literacy skills necessary to better their personal situations, thus benefiting all of California,” he wrote. “It is here that they can advance their own careers, obtain the skills for gainful employment and become better parents and more active participants in our communities.”
Torlakson added there is evidence that with “minimal fiscal resources, adult education still produces long-term and far reaching benefits.”
Chardiet, who is now the coordinator of a literacy program at LAUSD, agrees with Torlakson regarding how the loss of these educational initiatives can have a lasting effect on its students and families.
“(Eliminating adult education) would have a strong fiscal impact on our community,” she said. “People understand that there need to be cuts; what they don’t understand is having the program swept away.”
Hudak said he is not surprised to learn that the school board’s meeting room was filled with speakers who came especially to implore the board to spare adult education.
“Since I’ve been (at the Venice Skills Center), I’ve seen how important it is to the people who come here,” he said. “There are knowledgeable instructors here and the students here really love it.”
The district plans to include in its budget proposal in March a parcel tax initiative for the June or November ballot. If passed, the tax is expected to generate as much as $200-300 million for the district over the next five years, according to LAUSD officials.
Parcel taxes are levies on the value of property that the owner is required to pay, and they require a two-thirds vote for approval. Revenue generated from parcel taxes goes directly to school districts.